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Around the Foothills

The Green and Clean kids laughed irrepressibly as they stuffed debris into bags.

October 27, 1988|DOUG SMITH

Saturday's dreary sky may have offered no stimulus for play, but it set the mood for two similar, though unrelated, ventures that brought the public and its government together in the never-inviting duties of housekeeping.

In Glendale, about 1,000 households got involved.

The idea was to get rid of the old paint, bad gasoline, unused insecticides and other unidentifiable substances that stack up in containers, making it all but impossible to drive a two-seated import into the average American two-car garage.

The Glendale Fire Department worries that the remnants of products made to clean the home and hold the insect world at bay will eventually add up to a burden far beyond the technical means of those whose lives they have improved.

The law requires such material to be disposed of at toxic waste collection sites, said Battalion Chief Chris Gray of the Glendale Fire Prevention Bureau.

Not even the cheerful Gray believes that very many people will go to the trouble and expense. So the department came up with Household Toxic Waste Cleanup Day. For about $70,000, it hired American Environmental Corp. of Sacramento to haul away all the household wastes that the citizens could deliver in a day.

This was first done a year ago. Apparently word got around. When the gates of the city service yard opened at 9 a.m. Saturday, a line of cars was waiting. By noon, the pace hadn't let up.

A motorcycle officer directed arriving cars into a scene of Orwellian efficiency. The cars fanned out between traffic cones into half a dozen lanes. Workers in white suits and gloves whisked away their boxes and cans of toxic waste and stacked them on plastic dropcloths.

Others arranged the containers according to contents and placed them in plastic-lined crates. Forklifts loaded the crates onto trucks according to destination. Some went to paint recycling factories, others to incinerators, the rest to dumps. A tank truck took on old motor oil for recycling.

Unidentified bottles and mixed chemicals were delivered to two men in yellow jumpsuits who breathed through tubes tucked under their shiny black helmets. With test tubes, siphons, meters and chemicals, they conducted field tests to classify each bottle by volatility, acidity and toxicity. Once labeled, the bottles moved on.

Tidy summed it up. The operation worked so well that the department is thinking of doing it more often.

A few miles away on Mt. Washington, they'd like to think that Saturday's work, done right at last, will never have to be repeated.

The job there was to clean up Kite Hill, the rolling, grassy promontory overlooking the railroad yard and the downtown skyline. Young people go there at night to party, and others go to deposit refuse.

Residents of Mt. Washington cleaned up the mess in November and celebrated afterward with a potluck party on the hill. Their spirits sank, though, as the hill once again became littered with beer bottles, furniture and abandoned automobiles.

In June, Los Angeles Councilwoman Gloria Molina, who lives just across the canyon from Kite Hill, arranged for the city to construct stout iron barriers across both entrances to the hill.

The plan appears to be working, said Warren Christensen, who watches the comings and goings on Kite Hill from his house down the road.

Christensen decided that it was time for a final cleanup and celebration. The students of Mt. Washington Elementary School painted posters announcing the affair. Christensen, an arts consultant who has organized a few public events in his time, knew better than to leave matters at that.

"A volunteer doesn't have fun," he said. "They love it the first time and, after that, it's a job. I believe you back it up."

He did so by collecting $500 in donations from neighbors who supported the effort but couldn't make it in person.

Early Saturday morning, he took the money to the day-labor pickup spot at the bottom of the hill and came back with a load of men.

Molina's office pitched in plastic trash bags and about a dozen youths paid minimum wage to work on weekends in the city's Green and Clean program.

"They're great," Christensen said. "Last year, we had the Boy Scouts. They drank the lemonade and ate the doughnuts and complained a lot and then left."

At 2 p.m., Christensen, a beer in hand and sweat on his forehead, looked over his operation.

Several of the laborers were inching toward the top carrying a water heater. Others were scattered about, working silently. The Green and Clean kids laughed irrepressibly as they stuffed debris into bags. Even a few residents--Christensen's wife among them--could be seen here and there, raking and shoveling bits of broken bottles.

Rows of bulging trash bags lined the hill.

Still, Christensen was feeling kind of down.

"I'm just disappointed because I would have liked people to be dancing in the streets right now," he said.

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